The following is an update on the Takoma Junction development, with a discussion of potential next steps.
30-Day Extension. As many residents are aware, the City Council voted 6 – 1 on Wednesday to provide 30 more days for negotiations between Takoma Junction developer NDC and the Co-op. I argued in favor of and voted for the extension. I’m hopeful the two parties can use the time to agree on a Letter of Intent (LOI) that will allow an expanded Co-op to be the centerpiece of a vibrant Junction development.
If after 30 days there is no LOI, the Council will have to decide at our January 11 meeting whether to kill the deal and pay NDC up to $75,000 for its work, or authorize NDC to seek another anchor tenant (which can’t be a competitor with the Co-op). If that happens, the Co-op would remain in operation, and NDC would have to make reasonable accommodations for the Co-op’s loading and parking needs.
Based on the various draft design concepts presented at the Council meeting, it’s my sense that there are potential compromises that offer reasonable options for the Co-op, and also make the project financially viable for NDC. But those are business decisions, and I hope the two parties can bring a renewed focus in the next 30 days to exploring alternatives, taking into account their business needs.
The Co-op’s Role in the City. Much of the Council’s work on the Junction project has focused on preserving the Co-op’s key role in the City in the context of a revitalized Junction, a goal I strongly support. The Co-op has a long- term lease, and none of the NDC plans call for the Co-op to leave the Junction, though their precise location in the Junction could change. If the two parties don’t sign an LOI, the Co-op would remain at its current site (as it would if the Council votes to kill the entire deal).
Business Challenges. Key concerns the Co-op has emphasized include expansion, continuity of operations, an improved loading arrangement, and adequate parking. The proposals put forward by NDC and the Co-op would address these matters to varying degrees, but – because the Junction property is not large – it has proven difficult to address all of them in a way that makes ideal business sense for both companies. It’s my sense that parking is handled reasonably well in all the plans (with differing numbers of underground spaces), while the other issues are more challenging.
Continuity of Operations. The NDC proposals to build a larger, all new Co-op adjacent to the existing store (or very near it in the Junction) would resolve continuity of operations (the Co-op could move right in), but would require changing the existing Co-op lease or buying the land the Co-op currently rents. Building a smaller expansion adjacent to the existing store and then “tying them together” would mean closure of the Co-op for some period of time, and again would involve the Co-op’s landlords.
Loading. The Co-op proposal for a full 18-wheeler elevated loading dock would involve significant traffic tie-ups on Carroll Avenue, higher construction costs to shore up the “roof” of the underground parking, and leave a large, undeveloped paved area on the site. NDC’s “lay-by” proposal (in which 18 wheelers would pull into a bay off Carroll Avenue) would mean fewer traffic problems, but also a less desirable loading situation. Unloading from 18-wheelers currently involves moving goods 55 feet along an uncovered passage to the store’s loading entrance, with no elevated dock. The lay-by calls for a similar, partly covered 85 foot passage. An idea that emerged at the Council meeting is shifting the loading entrance to the side of the building, which could cut the distance to around 55 feet, but could also reduce the space available for other future tenants of NDC. So, there are tradeoffs, and they have to be evaluated by both parties in terms of their business impact.
Expansion. It seems clear that the only way for the Co-op to expand is to reach an agreement with NDC. If there is no agreement and the Council authorizes NDC to seek another anchor tenant, the Co-op will remain in business as they are now, with no expansion. If the Council votes to kill the deal, the result is the same. It’s highly unlikely there would be another development plan for a long time.
Traffic Issues. A number of residents have raised questions about whether the NDC lay-by plan would be acceptable to the Maryland State Highway Administration, and what impact the development will have on traffic in the Junction area generally. SHA has informed both NDC and the City that they don’t have major concerns with the lay-by. I agree that broader traffic issues will come into play in any Junction development plan (or any Co-op expansion, for that matter), but I don’t think these concerns need to be or can be resolved in the next 30 days.
Community Impact. I’m concerned about the extent to which divisions have formed in the community around the development project. One reason I supported the extra 30 days was because I thought, if it helped the Co-op and NDC reach a compromise, it could also help make us more unified, even if there isn’t a complete consensus on the best way forward. All the comments from residents -- via email in recent months and prior to this past week’s Council meeting, in one on one conversations I’ve had, and in the public comment period before the Council this past week and previously – demonstrate both the passion people feel for the City and their desire to ensure that the development is consistent with the things we hold dear about Takoma Park. So, while I understand the frustration because we’re still struggling with this phase of the project, I also have optimism that we’ll succeed in the end.
Next Steps. In the extra 30 days, it’s up to NDC and the Co-op to see if they can reach an LOI agreement -- the City can’t tell them what’s best. I would add, though, that all of the options under consideration or likely to be suggested will necessitate some interaction with the current Co-op landlords. So, if the outreach to the landlords to explore their willingness to cooperate in helping the two parties reach a compromise could benefit from the City’s involvement, I would be supportive of us playing a more active role. I have communicated that to my Council colleagues and City leadership.